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The Dirty Room: A Cross-Cultural Communication Riddle


Several years ago, I had an awesome job that included placing college students to live with local, Los Angeles immigrant families. As you might expect, there were the occasional cultural miscommunications.

One in particular stands out in my mind because it illuminated so clearly differences in communication styles. It also struck me because Billy and I immediately saw the experience through completely different lenses.

So I'll lay out the scenario, and you let me know in the comments what you think is going on.

Two American girls are living with a Filipino family.

The two girls are quite messy, though they have kept their mess limited to their shared bedroom.

One day, the woman of the house comes to the girls and lets them know that they are expecting visitors who will want to see the house, including their bedroom.

The girls understand and proceed to shove their mess into the closet, making their room presentable for the aforementioned guests. 

A day or two later, the girls learn that no guests are coming. In fact, no guests were ever expected. 

The girls call me. They are furious and hurt. The house mom also calls me. She, too, is furious and hurt. 

To see the "answer," click here.

What's your take on this cross-cultural communication riddle?
Image credit: Ye Olde Wig Shoppe
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10 comments

  1. Ashleigh3:26 PM

    ooo i'm stumped..

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  2. Kristen6:37 PM

    The girls are hurt because they feel that the host mom lied to them. The host mom is hurt because the room being dirty is shameful, and she wanted them to clean it without being direct to save face, but they didn't really clean the room. Am I close?

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  3. So are you going to leave us hanging???
    The girls are hurt because they were lied to, they wish she would have just told them the mess was bothering her.
    The mother is hurt because they didn't actually clean the room and she also feels like they are being deceitful.
    To me it seems like some direct communication would have solved this problem, but then again, I know teenagers and college students can be total slobs and may not have picked up even if asked. It may also be like the other commenter said, that the house mom didn't think she should need to ask them not to be slobs and/or in her culture it would be insulting to ask someone to pick up.
    I'd really like to know what culture she was from.

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  4. Haha. I will not leave you hanging, Krista. And many of the responses are getting right at the communication difference. She was Filipino.

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  5. Check back next week, Ashleigh. I'll have the follow-up!

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  6. Well done, Kristen! I will have a follow-up post next week getting at some of these differences. :)

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  7. ekstein114:40 PM

    I agree with Kristin! The mother was ashamed by the messiness because of the open culture, where as the girls were upset because they didn't feel like the host was being direct, which is an American trait, not an Asian trait. To the mother, she was being direct when asking them to clean their rooms!

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  8. That's such an interesting (and important) statement you make: "to the mother, she was being direct..." ;)

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  9. Tracy Slater2:00 AM

    Sounds very similar to Japanese culture!

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